The tiny Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan awaits, nestled high in the Himalayas its isolation from the world has cultivated a culture rich in traditions, religion and a benevolent monarchy. The dramatic landscapes, from snow capped peaks and deeply forested slopes to raging, boulder strewn rivers, sit largely undisturbed as the endeared environmental initiatives and religious beliefs leave the Kingdom pristine and a jewel of nature. The program takes you into this ancient Kingdom for an adventure into the hearts and lands of charming farmers, fascinating weavers, enchanting monks and charismatic leaders.
As your Druk Air flight weaves through the valley, arrival in Bhutan is like no other. As you touch down, keep your camera at the ready, as we have noticed how passengers slowly disembark and then stand on the tarmac totally bewildered. Then move through to immigration where you will present your Visa Approval letter and Passport for the official stamp. As you clear the Immigration check, please make your way to the baggage delivery area and here you will meet your Guide for the first time. The transfer to Thimphu is approximately 1½ hours and upon arrival and after settling in; you will have the choice of the National Memorial Chorten, Textile Museum, Folk Heritage Museum, National Library to visit, and perhaps time to stroll the Main Street for some interesting Himalayan artifacts or textiles.
This morning you will head to the north end of the valley to view Trashi Chhoe Dzong, the seat of Bhutan’s government and Royal offices, and pay a visit to Pangri Zampa, two 16th century buildings that now house a monastic training school for astrologers. At the head of the valley, should you wish to stretch your legs, a short hike will take you to Cheri Goemba, the monastery where the first monastic body was established in the Kingdom. Back in town you should be able to visit a few of the capital’s cottage industries like traditional paper and the weaving centre.
We opt for an early departure for a dramatic drive over the high mountain pass of Dochu La and on to the Punakha Valley. Sights on the way include one of Bhutan’s first fortress monasteries, the 17th century Simtokha Dzong, The journey continues over the 3,050m mountain pass where on a clear day, towering Himalayan peaks are clearly visible. The descent down thru the Punakha Valley along the Kingdom’s only east-west highway will loop you through the Valley of Wangdi where you can visit the rustic Wangdiphodrang Dzong and perhaps the local town temple next door. Time will be afforded to walk this small village and explore its row of intimate shops before heading back into Punakha Valley. This afternoon you will have a choice to visit the village of Talo, home of the Queens’ and the valley’s protective deity lhakhang. Later in the afternoon a hike to an ancient monastery on the hilltop behind the lodge can be organized or time given to enjoy the farmhouse and spa of the lodge.
The day in Punakha Valley begins with a beautiful hike from the Punakha Lodge along the Mo Chhu thru terraces of rice, chillies and cabbage, takes to the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten, a monument recently built by the four queens of Bhutan. Following the hike you will drive back up the valley towards Khuruthang passing Punthsho Pelri Palace and several other winter homes of the royal family before reaching the impressive Punakha Dzong. This ancient fortress is the winter residence of the monastic order’s head and still serves as the administrative headquarters for the Punakha region. A picnic lunch is served on the banks of the Punakha Chu, before visiting the village of Lobesa where a short walk ends at Chimi Lhakhang, the auspicious fertility monastery built in 1499.
After descending back down from Dochu La, you will follow your way back up the dramatic Wang Chu and Paro Chu river valleys, before crossing thru Paro Town towards the north end of the valley. Here, set in a pine forest, you will find the Amankora lodge and its spa. In the afternoon, there is an opportunity for a quick stroll to the nearby ruins, a visit to some of the valley’s oldest and holiest religious monuments or a ramble down Paro’s main street. Evenings at Amankora may include informative lectures on the history, religion, flora and fauna of the region or a intriguing movie on the Himalayas.
The day starts with a visit to the National Museum, housed in the Ta Dzong (watchtower). Here, an intriguing collection of artefacts provide a wonderful introduction to the rich culture and heritage of the Kingdom. Just a short walk downhill lies the dominating Paro Dzong, a fine example of Bhutanese historic architecture. From the Dzong, the tour crosses Nyamai Zampa, a traditional cantilever bridge, and guests are then driven to the town temple, built in 1525, to view ancient wall paintings. Paro options include picturesque picnic spots or, perhaps, a visit to a traditional farmhouse to lunch with the family. In the afternoon, hike up to view one of Bhutan’s most revered monuments, the Taktshang Goemba, more commonly referred to as the “Tiger’s Nest”. The four-hour trek offers spectacular views of this sacred monastery perched on a cliff face 900m above the valley floor.
A car will be ready to take you to Paro Airport. Transfer time is approximately 30 minutes and you are advised to arrive at the airport an hour before your international flight departure.